In a world where university is seen as four years of job training, the study of Classics might seem rather pointless: not many people these days say they want to teach ancient Greek or Roman history at a university when they grow up (though most of our professors did!). Certainly, we do indeed train students at the undergraduate level to be able to go on to do master’s and doctoral degrees and eventually teach Classics at the university level, but most of our students do not. So what is it, then, that all our other students are doing here? First of all, they often don’t start by taking Classics. They begin by thinking they want to do business, physics, biology, child psychology, or nursing. They take Latin, or Greek and Roman civilizations, or an archaeology course, just out of interest, and find out how interesting and exciting they are. They want more and eventually change their degrees, switching their specialization or adding a major or a minor. You can find out about these degrees here. So many of our students have changed their programmes simply because they like to study Classics, in the same way you might play Mass Effect 3 or Mario Kart 8: because you like it.
They then find that Classics has a lot to offer in the modern world. First of all, it isn’t a specific training for a specific job; it provides a general background that makes any other job easier to get and easier to do. First of all, learning Latin and Greek improves your English and French skills immensely. There are few jobs today that don’t involve some kind of high level writing and communication, and u wont get far in a job if u rite and talk like a text msg att ;-). You’ll learn whether it’s ‘between you and me’ or ‘between you and I’, and you’ll be able to decide whether ‘If I would have done that’, ‘If I had of done that’, or ‘If I had done that’ is right, not because of which one sounds right, but because of the rules. And employers will think you’re pretty smart if you know those rules, and everyone will think much more of you if you can read Latin or Greek (or both).
The study of Classics also involves writing essays that require very specific analytical skills: almost always you are being asked to read ancient texts and use ancient evidence along with modern scholarly opinions on that evidence. You must evaluate the evidence and arguments and come to conclusions. Because of the fragmentary nature of much of the ancient evidence and the fact that one must compare quite different types of evidence—literary texts, documentary texts, archaeology, coinage, art, and architecture, for instance—one must be able to employ lateral thinking and to analyse and argue in many quite different yet complementary ways. Our former students have found that the skills these essays taught in learning to understand and evaluate complicated and detailed arguments from diverse types of and sometimes contradictory evidence have demonstrated for employers analytical, research, and writing skills that are hard to come by these days. These are also life skills: you quickly learn how to use evidence and arguments, and can see when politicians, reporters, or your friends fail to do so properly.
Classics also gives you a detailed understanding of two ancient cultures, which makes it easier to appreciate and understand differing cultures in the world today without prejudice or bias. It also gives you a good idea of our place in the history of the world, the origins of our cultures and ideas, and why so many things are the way they are and why we think and see the way we do. It’s not only the direct inheritance from the ancient world, but the effect on Western civilization of the rediscovery of the classical world in the Renaissance and the conscious adoption and adaptation of its examples in so many all areas of human experience from that time until the first half of the twentieth century.
Our graduates have gone on in a multitude of fields, from medicine and law (as you might expect) to government work, administration, teaching (at all levels), business, and even computers and software. There’s no limit, really. And don’t forget that some of you will end up doing jobs that no one has even thought of yet. How can you prepare now for a job like that? Classics provides you with the sorts of skills that will make you better at just about any job you’ll end up doing and you’ll have fun while you do it. And because it is so general it will transfer well from one job to the next, so you are prepared, no matter what happens.
So in that way, the study of the past is one of the best preparations for your future.